Nav: Home

Are drones disturbing marine mammals?

February 13, 2017

Marine researchers have made sure that their research drones aren't disturbing their research subjects, shows a report in Frontiers in Marine Science. And they're hoping that others will follow their example to help protect wildlife in the future.

We've all seen the videos--drones and wildlife don't always get along. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) offer unparalleled scientific footage and insight, but how can wildlife researchers be sure that they're not disturbing the very animals they're hoping to study?

"UAVs are becoming more and more popular both with the public and as a scientific tool and, until now, there's been little scientific information on the impact of drones in the marine environment," says Lars Bejder, who leads Murdoch University's Cetacean Research Unit in Western Australia. "It's very important to know whether these instruments have an effect on these animals."

Bejder's group and their collaborators at the Marine Bioacoustics lab of Aarhus University in Denmark specialize in whales and dolphins, both of which are particularly sensitive to human-made noise because they rely heavily on acoustics for communication, hunting, and navigation.

To ensure that their research drones were inaudible to these mammals, Dr. Fredrik Christiansen (a post-doctoral fellow in Bejder's lab and lead author of the research) and colleagues measured how well the drone sounds carried into the water. To do so, they suspended an underwater microphone one meter below the ocean's surface. Since marine mammals spend the vast majority of their time deeper in the water, Christiansen describes this as the "worst case scenario" for these mammals. The groups then flew two different types of multirotor UAVs at varied heights over the water and monitored how much noise was detectable under the surface.

Fortunately, they found that the sounds from the UAV didn't travel very well from the air into the water. Drone noise was very close to the background noise level in shallow water habitats. Furthermore, the teams also compared the recorded noise levels to the known hearing thresholds of dolphins and whales and they found that, for the majority of these mammals, drones were below these auditory thresholds.

While Christiansen's experiments are in the clear, it's important to note that terrestrial species and birds will be more exposed to both the sound and visual presence of UAVs. Researchers will need to continue performing similar studies to make sure that their UAVs are safe to use with different types of wildlife. Christiansen and his collaborators are hoping that their study will help guide the regulation of drone use in the future.

"Wildlife research is carried out under very strict permits and we hope that our research will help guide the regulators who evaluate permit applications to ensure that we understand what may or may not have an effect on these animals," explains Bejder.

All UAV research was conducted under Western Australian State research permits and with Murdoch University Animal Ethics approval.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Whales Articles:

Fishing less could be a win for both lobstermen and endangered whales
A new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that New England's historic lobster fishery may turn a higher profit by operating with less gear in the water and a shorter season.
North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer condition than Southern right whales
New research by an international team of scientists reveals that endangered North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer body condition than their counterparts in the southern hemisphere.
Solar storms could scramble whales' navigational sense
When our sun belches out a hot stream of charged particles in Earth's general direction, it doesn't just mess up communications satellites.
A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Why whales are so big, but not bigger
Whales' large bodies help them consume their prey at high efficiencies, a more than decade-long study of around 300 tagged whales now shows, but their gigantism is limited by prey availability and foraging efficiency.
Whales stop being socialites when boats are about
The noise and presence of boats can harm humpback whales' ability to communicate and socialise, in some cases reducing their communication range by a factor of four.
Endangered whales react to environmental changes
Some 'canaries' are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine.
Stranded whales detected from space
A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space.
Hush, little baby: Mother right whales 'whisper' to calves
A recent study led by Syracuse University biology professor Susan Parks in Biology Letters explores whether right whale mother-calf pairs change their vocalizations to keep predators from detecting them.
Researchers use drones to weigh whales
Researchers from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) in Denmark and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones.
More Whales News and Whales Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Our Relationship With Water
We need water to live. But with rising seas and so many lacking clean water – water is in crisis and so are we. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around restoring our relationship with water. Guests on the show include legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, and community organizer Colette Pichon Battle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Uncounted
First things first: our very own Latif Nasser has an exciting new show on Netflix. He talks to Jad about the hidden forces of the world that connect us all. Then, with an eye on the upcoming election, we take a look back: at two pieces from More Perfect Season 3 about Constitutional amendments that determine who gets to vote. Former Radiolab producer Julia Longoria takes us to Washington, D.C. The capital is at the heart of our democracy, but it's not a state, and it wasn't until the 23rd Amendment that its people got the right to vote for president. But that still left DC without full representation in Congress; D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to the House. Julia profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. Second, Radiolab producer Sarah Qari looks at a current fight to lower the US voting age to 16 that harkens back to the fight for the 26th Amendment in the 1960s. Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria and Sarah Qari. Check out Latif Nasser's new Netflix show Connected here. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.